Today June 5, St. Kitts and Nevis joins the world in celebrating World Environment Day. Each year the United Nations selects a theme to raise awareness on an environmental concern and to call for an International response and action relating to that theme. The theme for 2018 is “Beat Plastic Pollution: If you can’t reuse it, refuse it”.

The first synthetic based plastics were developed in the mid 1800’s and the first fully synthetic plastic was developed in the early 1900’s. Plastics were first mass produced around World War II in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Plastic has long been a beneficial product whose advantages include: being lightweight, water resistant, durable, strong, economical and resistant to corrosion and chemicals. Unfortunately, these obvious advantages go hand in hand with some very worrying disadvantages. Plastics can seriously pollute the environment especially when they are disposed of incorrectly; they pose a danger to wildlife when these animals ingest them or become caught in them; they pose difficulties during recycling and take a very long time to degrade. In fact some plastics can take between 450 years to one thousand years to completely degrade or decompose in the environment. Just imagine that one plastic water bottle that we throw in the garbage today would still be breaking down hundreds of years from now. Now multiply that one plastic bottle by hundreds and thousands for St. Kitts and Nevis in one year and you would begin to understand the magnitude of the problem. 

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment recently said that “The fact is that while we are acutely aware of the alarming rising tide of plastic waste, there is not a great deal known about the long-term health impacts of this pollution crisis. What we do know is that our addiction to convenience has placed it everywhere: leaching into food from kitchens, restaurants and supermarkets; floating in microscopic particles in our drinking water; drifting in the oceans and choking wildlife and ecosystems. For a long time, we operated on the principle that plastics are okay because there was no evidence that they are unsafe. This is not equivalent to proving they are safe. The ubiquity of plastics, and the increasing evidence that we are ingesting many of them in microplastic form, demands a closer examination of the health implications.”

The Environmental community is alarmed at the proliferation of plastics and the dangers it imposes to ourselves, our wildlife and our environment. In 2017, during the Department of Environment’s annual coastal clean-up, 2132 plastic bottles were cleaned from only two of our beaches. This alarming number is just a snapshot of what is happening in our country. The proliferation of single use plastic products is a great concern of the Department of Environment and my Government. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warns that “if the current trend is allowed to continue, by 2050 we will have more plastics in the ocean than fish”. We need to take urgent action now!

I am urging us to consider the implications of our actions and encourage us to adopt meaningful changes to our daily habits. I would encourage each and every citizen to embrace the world environment day theme of “IF YOU CAN’T REUSE IT, REFUSE IT”. Simple behavior changes can include for those who buy lunch, to walk with your own eating utensils daily and refuse the plastic knife or fork that is given with your meal. When grocery or vegetable shopping, walk with a reusable bag, preferably cloth, that can be washed and used again. If you must use a plastic bag, ask your bagger for one bag, instead of two. Refuse straws or purchase a reusable straw. Before disposing of a plastic item, ask yourself, can this item be used again?

Creating good consumption and waste disposal habits will protect both the environment and your health. Since plastics can stick around for an extensive period of time before it is completely degraded, we therefore need to drastically halt the loading of plastics into our environment. My government would like to first give our citizens the opportunity to voluntarily change our behavior and actions before we consider mandatory changes such as a complete ban on plastics and styrofoam. If we are desirous of improving our health and reversing some of the negative impacts of plastic proliferation we must change our behavior now.

Let us reduce our use of plastic to beat plastic pollution. Remember if we can’t re-use it, refuse it. Thank You and Happy World Environment Day.